My father had a ginormous number of cousins – his father had come from a family of thirteen and his mother from a family of ten. One of these was Cousin Faye, who converted to Mormonism when she married her husband Gil. I’ve always found religion of any description intriguing, so, when I was thirteen and Cousin Faye came for a visit, I let her try and convert me, thereby earning the thanks of a grateful family. They retired to the living room to drink and otherwise blaspheme, while a woefully decaffeinated Faye and I stayed behind in the family room, poring over the Book of Mormon, which I found secretly hilarious. For starters, there’s the name of the angel who served as God’s emissary — Moroni. What kid wouldn’t find that funny?
Back in those days, Mormons were the great genealogists. One of the core tenets of that creed is that the dead can be baptized by proxy into the faith post mortem – this solves the messy problem of what to do about all those unlucky ancestors who happened to be born before Moroni clued Joseph Smith in on the location of the Golden Tablets or who otherwise didn’t get the memo. To do this, however, the Mormons had to determine just who those hapless relatives were. I mean, you couldn’t let just anybody in. Hence the great Mormon genealogical project. And they meant business. The original records, preserved on over 2 million rolls of microfilm containing 2 billion names, are locked away behind fourteen-tonne doors in the Granite Mountain Records Vault, a climate-controlled depository designed to withstand a nuclear attack. Think Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. Only in Utah.
Thanks to Faye’s considerable efforts to trace our family as far back as Mormonly possible, we have a family tree that goes all the way back to 1605 and one Anthony Hardy. It was his son John who first came to the New World, settling initially on the James River in Virginia before hauling up stakes and moving to Chowan in Bertie County, North Carolina, where the family was to occupy property demarcated by such landmarks as “the middle swamp”, the “rooty branch” and “the Great Beaverdam” for the next two hundred plus years.
My mother’s family also traced the Zant and Loving families (her father’s people) back to their European roots, only without any help from Mormons. I have in my possession a much faded mimeographed copy of that family tree. What is new and kind of amazing is how the Internet allows us to fill in some of the blanks as to who those people were. For my last blog post – Ruminations on the Confederacy — I noted that my great – times six – grandfather Solomon Zant married Elizabetha Keiffer in 1767 in the town of Ebenezer in Effingham County in Georgia. I googled ‘Ebenezer’ and found that it was established in 1734 by 150 Protestants expelled as heretics from the Catholic Archbishopric of Saltzburg – they envisioned it as a religious Utopia on the Georgian frontier, a fanciful notion if ever there was one. Construction of the town’s Jerusalem Lutheran Church, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, began in the year of Solomon and Elizabeth’s marriage. As it turns out, both Soloman’s mother and his wife were from Saltzburg. Wowza! My ancestors were religious refugees and wannabe Utopians. I did not know that.
Ultimately Cousin Faye not only baptized by proxy some thirteen plus generations of Hardys, but also sealed them in celestial marriage for eternity to their respective spouses. This upset my older brother no end; he saw it as tantamount to tying cats up in a bag, only forever – in his case, this would prove to be a number of cats. Did her Mormon magic work? I hope not, because 1) the idea of a non-alcoholic Heaven isn’t my idea of a Hardy Family Reunion and 2) if I’m to be sealed for eternity, I much prefer my second husband to that other one.